Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph
December 17, 2015 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Can you imagine experiencing the Christmas story as Joseph? We know that Joseph was “betrothed” to Mary. In the Jewish culture, this betrothal, about one year in length, carried a deeper commitment than engagement in our culture. The groom would have already paid a portion of the bride price to her father and the couple would be considered nearly married; they had just to consummate their union. A divorce was required to break this betrothal. At some point, during that betrothal, Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant. How would you feel if you believed your fiancé/fiancée was unfaithful to you?
We do not know the timing between Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, Joseph learning of her pregnancy, Mary’s three month visit with Elizabeth, the angel’s appearance to Joseph, and the time when Joseph takes Mary as his wife. There could have been days, weeks, or even months between these events. Did Mary go “with haste” to Elizabeth because she feared Joseph’s response (Lk. 1:39)? How long did Joseph wrestle with the agony of believing his fiancée/wife was unfaithful to him? How much did the surrounding family and community know of these circumstances?
While we don’t know the tabloid details of Joseph’s story, the Bible does give us some insights into the character of Joseph:
1. Joseph mirrors the character of God in his reaction to Mary’s pregnancy. Joseph had the right to shame Mary, to divorce her publicly and expose her “indecency.” Matthew tells us, though, that Joseph was a “just man” and was “unwilling to put her to shame.” To our ears, “justice” sounds like meting out the due punishment. According to Deuteronomy 22:23-24, the due punishment for a betrothed woman getting pregnant was stoning. Yet, Joseph is called just for being unwilling to subject Mary to such punishment or even public ridicule. How does this work? In God’s economy, justice is not only meting out punishment, but it also includes seeking to correct oppression (see Isaiah 1:17). Widows and the fatherless were two groups of people highly oppressed in the Jewish culture. By publicly shaming Mary in divorce, Joseph would virtually leave Mary as a teenage widow with a fatherless child, condemned to poverty for the rest of their lives. Seeking to divorce Mary quietly was the best way for Joseph to do justice against Mary’s perceived sin (of course we know the story and know that she didn’t sin in getting pregnant, but think about the situation from Joseph’s perspective) and to do justice for the potential oppression Mary would face. Such actions are similar to the God of all justice and compassion.
2. Joseph is obedient to God. When God did reveal to Joseph through the angel what he was doing with Mary, Joseph obeys immediately. Note Matthew 1:24, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” Why the detail about Joseph waking up? Matthew wants us to know that Joseph did not hesitate to obey God. Matthew records three other dreams to which Joseph was obedient (see Matt. 2:13, 19, & 22). Habitual obedience to the commands of God is not a product of human invention, it is the fruit of the Spirit. His obedience reveals that Joseph was a man of faith, trusting God’s leading, even when he did not see the end of the story.
3. Joseph quickly fades from the story. After the birth narrative, Joseph is hardly mentioned in the gospels. He had played his role in the bigger story of redemption, a story centered on Jesus Christ. Like John the Baptist later, Jesus must increase, but Joseph must decrease (John 3:30). This is an example of a faithful, humble follower of God. It’s not about us, but about Jesus.
Much like Mary, Joseph had to navigate the events of the birth of Christ with a lot of uncertainties. Also like Mary, Joseph demonstrated faith in his sovereign God by submitting to and obeying God’s will. If God could use the faithful obedience of ordinary disciples to couch the birth of His only begotten Son, he could certainly use the faithful obedience of ordinary disciples today to couch the greatest news this world has ever heard. May we be found faithful in our obedience to our good God.